Scholars weigh in: What should we expect from Hu-Obama meetings?
U.S. President Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a state dinner reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in November 2009. (Photo Credit: By Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
Will the two presidents announce breakthrough deals on the Chinese currency, North Korea, Taiwan or other highly sensitive issues? Or will the visit be mostly symbolic -- a way for President Obama to show China the respect the Chinese feel they deserve?
The consensus among China watchers is that the chances of the men finding a resolution for these sensitive issues is unlikely, but that there's likely to be progress on other fronts. Hu may press the U.S. to ease its ban on technology exports; Obama may focus on access for foreign firms to Chinese markets. The one thing that's almost certain to happen next week -- because it has happened on every recent trip by a high-ranking Chinese official -- is that the Chinese will throw money around to show that investments can go both ways, announcing large deals with American companies.
The Washington Post's Scott Wilson reports today that human rights will also be addressed. Obama met for more than an hour Thursday at the White House with five advocates for greater civil liberties and human rights in China. A senior administration official told Wilson that Obama will speak about human rights in his public appearance with Hu and bring up the issue during their private meetings.
Scholars at think tanks in Washington weigh in on the historic state visit:
- Bonnie S. Glaser on "deliverables" from the meeting
- Douglas Paal on saving "face"
- Elizabeth Economy on the "unusually frank" statements by U.S. officials in recent days
- Joshua Meltzer on opportunities in climate change
- Victor Cha on North Korea
Bonnie S. Glaser, a former consultant for the Department of Defense and the State Department and now chair of the China program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, breaks down the goals of the summit for Obama and Hu.
For President Obama, the summit provides an important opportunity to engage China's president on a broad range of global, regional, and bilateral issues. At the global level, the United States seeks greater Chinese cooperation in countering proliferation of nuclear weapons, reducing imbalances in the global economy, and combating climate change. Regional issues include preventing further North Korean provocations, promoting regional security cooperation in the East Asia Summit, and ensuring that the results of the referendum on southern Sudan are accepted by Sudan and the international community and that the 2005 peace agreement is fully implemented. Bilateral issues that will be raised by the U.S. side include human rights, trade, and the U.S.-China military relationship.
The Obama administration would like some concrete deliverables to demonstrate to the American public that the president's policy is effective and producing results. A flurry of negotiations has been conducted in the weeks and months prior to the summit to find common ground on issues. Agreements reached at the December meeting of the Joint Commission of Commerce and Trade may be included as summit deliverables.
It is unlikely that a lengthy joint statement will be released since a substantial statement was signed when President Obama visited China in 2009, but it is possible that a shorter statement will be issued that reaffirms both leaders' commitment to promoting a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive bilateral relationship and to working together on a vast agenda of issues.
Beijing is primarily concerned with the symbolic trappings of a state visit, which it sees as being deserved by a Chinese leader. The black-tie state dinner and the 21-gun salute are important signs of respect for Hu to display to domestic observers back in China. ... This is Hu Jintao's last visit to the United States as president and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He will step down in 2012 and transfer the reins of leadership to Xi Jinping. This summit is therefore an important part of Hu's legacy and provides an opportunity to demonstrate that he has been a responsible steward of the U.S.-China relationship during his decade of leadership. Hu will also want to show that he has defended Chinese national interests.
Sustaining China's economic growth rate is China's highest priority because doing so is essential to preserving domestic stability and keeping the Communist Party in power. Hu will seek assurances for Chinese workers and export industries that American markets will remain open to Chinese goods.
On North Korea, Hu will deliver the familiar message that preserving stability on the Korean peninsula is of the utmost importance and that early resumption of the Six-Party Talks is necessary to ease tensions and implement the provisions of the agreements reached.
The Chinese also hope to improve the image of China among Americans. Prior to the U.S. mid-term elections, many political campaigns ran ads portraying China as stealing American jobs, keeping its currency undervalued to promote Chinese exports, and favoring Chinese state companies over American investors. There is also growing concern in the United States that China is building military capabilities that are aimed at preventing the U.S. military from operating in waters along China's periphery. In Chicago, Hu will tour a Chinese-invested auto parts plant to convey that China is contributing to job creation by investing in the United States. He will also visit a joint U.S.-China clean energy project and a secondary school where Chinese is taught with assistance from the Chinese government, both stops highlighting China's positive role in the United States. In Washington, Hu will deliver a public speech in which he is certain to reassure Americans that China is committed to a peaceful rise.
Elizabeth Economy, who is famous for her book, "The River Runs Black," about China's environmental woes and is now a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, comments on the "unusually frank set of speeches and commentaries by senior U.S. officials."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called pointedly for China to live up to its commitment to universal values. Defense Secretary Robert Gates anticipates "evolutionary growth" in military-to-military relations, not "breakthroughs or headlines." And Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has made clear that only when China makes progress on U.S. priorities -- such as the reduction of trade and investment barriers, protection of intellectual property rights, and currency revaluation -- will the United States make progress on Chinese priorities, such as the export of high-tech products and market economy status.
This new reality comes at a price. The long-held hope that the United States and China would sit down together and sketch out a path to achieve global peace and stability has become a more distant aspiration. Such mutuality of interests, priorities, and values are not yet shared.
Instead, clear-eyed framing of the bilateral relationship and the absence of a deferential U.S. diplomatic tone signal hard bargaining and the beginning of difficult work to develop the much-needed "habits of cooperation" Clinton has noted.
Why the change?
A year can be a long time in the world of foreign policy, and 2010 was especially long for China. A series of almost unimaginably poor decisions by Beijing has raised serious concerns globally about precisely what kind of power China will be. The year got off to a bad start with the cyberhacking and Google debacle in January. China's foreign ministry compounded the problem by bullying the country's neighbors over long-disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea, reflexively defending North Korean aggression against South Korea, and supporting an embargo of rare earths against Japan in the wake of a Chinese fishing boat collision with Japanese patrol boats.
The already dismal year concluded with a bang when Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace prize. The foreign ministry's tirade against Liu and the Nobel Committee only underscored to the rest of the world the great distance China has yet to travel to truly meet its potential as a global power.
China's missteps and miscalculations also opened the door for a reassertion of U.S. leadership, particularly in Asia. President Barack Obama, Clinton, and Gates crisscrossed Asia to reaffirm ties with traditional allies, broaden relations with newer partners and offer reassurance of a deep and abiding U.S. commitment to the region.
Joshua Meltzer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, mentions an issue of great importance to both countries -- climate change -- but that hasn't been discussed extensively in relation to the upcoming visit although Hu's visit does include a visit to a U.S.-China clean energy project in the Chicago area. (Brookings and the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy are co-hosting a clean-energy cooperation forum for high-ranking officials and businesspeople from both countries during Hu's visit.)
On the climate change and energy front, the better-than-expected outcome from the U.N. climate change meeting in Cancun in December will set a positive tone for discussions. In particular, progress was made on the measurement, reporting and valuation of climate change mitigation actions and on financing. President Hu's visit should also provide an opportunity to discuss how China will reflect its climate change policy in its 12th Five Year Plan. The expectation is that China will include the 40-45 percent carbon intensity target it announced at the Copenhagen climate change meeting in December 2009. Other climate change targets are also likely, including one on new energy intensity to replace the 20 percent target in its 11th Five Year Plan.
Without progress in the U.S. on carbon pricing, bilateral climate change and energy discussions should focus on increasing the development and deployment of climate change technologies. The U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Centers (CERC) that were agreed upon when President Obama visited China in November 2009 provide a framework for deepening bilateral cooperation in this area. The United States and China will provide $75 million each in matching funds for research at the CERC that will be initially focused on developing key climate change technologies for building energy efficiency, clean coal including carbon capture and storage, and clean vehicles.
Douglas H. Paal, a former unofficial U.S. representative to Taiwan and now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes about the importance of giving Hu "face."
Viewed cynically, Hu's visit could be seen as a relatively empty meeting, just giving him face in the last two years of his term of office and making up for the half-hearted and clumsy welcome Hu received during his first official visit during the George W. Bush administration. But given the drift in management of U.S. relations by China in recent years, getting Hu on to the White House grounds provides him with incentive to take relations in hand. His "face" is engaged and he has an interest in making his ten-year legacy as leader of China reflect well on his dealings with Washington. It becomes an "action forcing event."
Victor Cha, formerly the director of Asian affairs for the White House's National Security Council and now a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explains why China doesn't push North Korea harder to denuclearize and what the Obama administration wants China to do.
Bizarre as it may sound, the more North Korea relies on China for sustenance, the more China becomes emasculated regarding the ability to pressure the North. This is because Beijing has no metric for determining how much pressure can force change or how much pressure will lead to collapse. Ironically, when others were funding the North (as during South Korea's Sunshine Policy), the Chinese had more room to pressure Pyongyang. Now, the weakness of North Korea is the biggest reason why China doesn't push it harder. At $960, North Korea has the lowest GDP per capita in Northeast Asia, by almost $3,000 (China's is $3,735). According to Foreign Policy's latest "Failed States Index," North Korea is the 19th-most failed state on earth, sandwiched between East Timor and Niger. The last thing the Chinese would want is to force the regime into a tailspin leading to a catastrophic collapse of the state. This could result in massive, uncontrollable refugee flows; unaccounted for nuclear materials; great power confrontation; potential factionalism within the North Korean territory, leading to civil war; and countless other untold horrors Beijing is intent on avoiding. China's modus operandi has been and will likely continue to be to ever-so-gently push and prod the North Koreans in the direction of Chinese- and Vietnamese-style economic liberalization, being always mindful of the potential threat of a "hard landing" in the North.
Three measures seem appropriate [for the Obama administration]. First, the administration probably wants China to compel the North to abide by the 1953 armistice and cease provocations. One simple way of doing this would be for Beijing to state clearly that it opposes any North Korean actions that violate the 1953 armistice (e.g., the Yeonpyeong Island shelling) to which China is a signatory.
Second, Chinese diplomacy should focus on "pre-positioning" the North for an eventual return to Six-Party Talks, which entails: (a) inter-Korean talks and conveyance of condolences for the Korean lives lost in the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks; (b) a North Korean commitment to the 2005 and 2007 denuclearization agreements; and (c) a North Korean commitment to freeze uranium enrichment programs.
Third, the administration would probably want Beijing to cooperate more closely on limiting the proliferation risks from the North, including curtailment of proliferation-related financial activities and more secure monitoring of land, sea, and air routes out of the North.
Ariana Eunjung Cha
| January 14, 2011; 2:40 PM ET
Categories: China, White House
Save & Share: Previous: Spike in global food prices contributes to Tunisian violence
Next: Multiple protests planned for Chinese president's state visit
Posted by: Anonymous | January 14, 2011 4:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: apn3206 | January 14, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Chuck8764 | January 15, 2011 1:44 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | January 15, 2011 8:31 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | January 15, 2011 9:58 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: hariknaidu | January 15, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | January 15, 2011 4:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | January 16, 2011 12:13 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | January 16, 2011 2:52 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: LarryG62 | January 16, 2011 9:18 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: martymartel3 | January 16, 2011 9:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: theo musikanth - south africa | January 16, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | January 16, 2011 8:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: renderus | January 16, 2011 8:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | January 18, 2011 3:39 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Vernice Bottino | January 20, 2011 3:03 AM | Report abuse